Urtica dioica • painfully delicious

stinging nettle

Restaurants feature them (part of the “eat local”, better yet “eat wild” movement), nutritionists tout them (a true super-food), our back woods is full of them. Yes, I speak of stinging nettles: the darlings of the spring culinary elite.

the nettle harvest

Ever one to dabble in the latest food craze (and never opposed to free food) I covered up, grabbed a basket and shears and headed into the woods. The abundance of plants in peak condition led me to cram my market basket with the pernicious delicacy.

fiddleheads unfurling

While still in the woods, I spotted fiddleheads emerging from the many sword ferns and made a mental note to return for the makings of another esoteric kitchen experiment. Sadly, when I went back a couple of days later, the deer had nipped off each and every one.


On the way back to the house, I stopped by the vegetable plot, where a row of leeks was in need of thinning. I figured these would be good companions for the nettles.

Tongs had been recommended for handling, but I knew that, in addition to the tongs, this would be a hands-on experience. I broke out the surgical gloves. The stems and undersides of the leaves are covered with spiny hairs that release a devilish mix of histamine, serotonin and formic acid. By plunging the stems into boiling water for about a minute, that toxic brew is deactivated without undermining the health benefits of intense concentrations of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. But how do they taste? Something like spinach with a little more of a mineral tang. The real difference is in the texture. There is an almost dangerous roughness on the tongue (I will admit: that may have something to do with the power of suggestion).

I had expected the raw material to cook down much more than it did. I wound up with plenty for experimentation. Dish 1: sauteed leeks and nettles layered with non-cook lasagna, bechamel sauce and three cheeses; grade ****. Dish 2: another lasagna using tomato sauce instead of the bechamel and adding sunflower seeds; grade **. Dish 3: simple scrambled eggs with the nettles stirred in and a light sprinkle of finishing salt; grade ****. My conclusion was that the simpler the dish, the more the subtle flavor of the nettles came through. And heavier gloves are needed for handling. I swished them around in cold water before using tongs to transfer them to the boiling water bath and could feel them stinging right through the surgical gloves. Not unbearable (anyone who cooks and/or gardens is used to minor injuries) but my fingers were still numb and tingly the next day.

Wendy, at Greenish Thumb has challenged us to cook up our gardens’ bounty and share. Go there to find good goodies.

Joy Creek dry gardening seminar

On the second day, Hortlandia lost out to Maurice Horn’s presentation. Most Sundays, Joy Creek Nursery offers a seminar. This one held special interest for me, as I have been trying to phase out the need to drag hoses about during the dry summer months.

Joy Creek seminar tent

The canopy protects the audience from rainfall, or, in this case (wonder of wonders), sunshine.

dry garden plants

A table plus a cart were loaded with plants to illustrate points being made.

handouts on clip boards

These guys seemingly think of everything: handouts come on individual clipboards, complete with a sharpened pencil for note-taking. I, for one, was scribbling furiously. Maurice has been pressed into service to deal with some staggering planting problems, and he used them to walk us through a process that will end in success under almost any circumstances. The formula, in a nutshell: use a mixture of 1/4″ ten gravel mixed with organic material for planting; mulch with more of the same gravel. Mulching with gravel allows bringing the mulch right up to the plant, where organic mulches will cause rot if there isn’t breathing room. I had been using pea gravel because I like the look, but I am now convinced that the 1/4″ ten is superior in every way. Where pea gravel tends to roll and gets kicked around, this stuff stays put. Just make sure you get the washed kind so that sediment does not rise to the surface and form a crust.

Cistus ‘Blanche’

I arrived early to stroll through the display gardens, and even had time to latch on to this Cistus ‘Blanche’.

more Cistus ‘Blanche’

It is marginally hearty here, so it is going in a pot with Heuchera ‘Caramel’ at its feet. I love those wavy leaves and the coloration of leaf and stem. The blooms will be white, so I can live with those, too.

Artemesia versicolor

We dove for the demonstration plants (politely, of course) and I came up with Artemesia versicolor, which has been on my list for some time.

Zauschneria garetti

Zauschneria garetti is supposed to form a mat through which early bulbs will grow and then produce red-orange flowers of its own later on. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Eryngium borgattii

Continuing my love affair with Eryngiums, this one is borgattii.

Ceanothus gloriosys ‘Heart’s Desire’

Sprawling forms of Ceanothus sound like the perfect ground cover for the evergreen border, so I am giving C. gloriosus ‘Heart’s Desire’ a try.

Sedum ‘Stardust’

Everything the least bit fleshy that goes into my dry berm seems to get nibbled. I must figure out a way to protect Sedum ‘Stardust’, because that is the perfect spot for it, and I will cry if it meets the same fate as the poor Opuntia. Any ideas?

The best and most mature of Horn’s dry gardens is the Reed College Hell Strip. To see another of his efforts and get in on the early stages of a demanding project, go to the rest stop on the west side of I-5 near Aurora. Now I must be off to procure me some gravel.

bamboo garden birthday

Yesterday was R’s birthday. I asked him what he would like to do, fully expecting a visit to the Portland Art Museum and/or galleries around town. But no, he wanted to take a trip out to Bamboo Garden in North Plains. One of these days, we must take this little drive on a beautiful day…which yesterday surely was not.

driveway of Bamboo Garden

But no matter what the weather, coming to this 20 acre bamboo haven just outside Portland, Oregon is a treat.

bamboo forest

Here’s a little closer look at that bamboo forest behind the fence that greets you as you drive in.

bamboo fence

Of course the fence is fashioned from bamboo canes.

outdoor hanging bamboo sculpture

…just the first of many imaginative uses in evidence. This woven piece hanging in the trees is probably close to 25′ long.

bamboo doorway

Pass through this doorway and you will find more…

bamboo sphere sculpture

like this woven sphere hanging in a greenhouse filled with an assortment of potted bamboo

hanging tillandsias

and even some Tillandsias.
bamboo pod sculpture

On the warehouse side hangs this pod sculpture woven from bamboo

poles of all lengths and diameters

Just in case you can’t wait for your own bamboo forest to produce the materials you need, that warehouse is chock-a-block piled high with poles of every length and diameter.


Plus a propagation area with tables full of tiny starts just getting underway.

our guide

Once we had met our guide and described to her our needs.

electric cart

we were invited to hop aboard one of the electric carts, and away we went…

clump of bamboo

past clumps

mixed bamboo border

along mixed borders and through forests

pond and greenhouses

all the way to the bottom of the property, where extensive greenhouses overlook a large pond.


The signage is clear and informative, but hardly necessary because our guide kept up a running commentary, with stops along the way so we could take a closer look at anything that tickled our fancy. We were after timber bamboo, and we wanted something that would spread quickly (we’re no spring chickens, after all). Since we have managed to kill our last two trials, we opted to take home only one tub of the recommended Phyllostachys vivax. We left armed with two care sheets and a lot of verbal support for our efforts. If all goes well, we will definitely be back to give P. atrovaginata a try. Nicknamed “incense bamboo” the canes smell just like lemongrass when chafed.

Sasa veitchii

Sasa veitchii is another that will haunt my dreams until I can get back there and claim a pot of it to introduce as ground cover. Couldn’t have had a better birthday if it had been my own.

downtown’s west end

I was meeting a friend who works at the Oregonian for lunch yesterday. I got there a little early and took a look around,

looking east - the University Club

Looking east, the old world charm of The University Club, backed by screaming modernism.


Standing on that same corner and looking west, this spanking new high rise houses the latest iteration of Gifford’s Flowers.

cut flowers on display

Talk about curb appeal! Masses of cut flowers are arrayed down the block.

forced forsythia branches

Forced branches of plum and forsythia reminded me to get out there and cut a few whips to bring into the house. For the first time here, the forsythia is large enough to sacrifice some of its new growth on the altar of home decoration.

unusual cut flowers

All of the expected posies are represented, but how often do you see things like ‘love-lies-bleeding’ on sale by the stem?

wreath on window

pussy willow wreath

Time to step through the door…who could resist?

a counter full of posies

Behind the counter, shelves and shelves of containers to strike any mood.

whimsical bud vases

Zeroing in on a pair of whimsical bud vases. The glaze on these is beyond matte, for a very unusual, soft impression.

succulents and tilandsias

One whole corner is given over to succulents and tillandsias. They are not labeled, but unlike most shops selling succulents, someone here is up on things and can tell you what they are.

looking into the work area

My impression was that the shop is much larger than it was in its former digs, but they said no, it is roughly the same. Everything now is out in the open, and you can look into the work area where creations are taking shape.

bud vase at home

Surely you didn’t think that I could leave without claiming one of those bud vases for my own?

bud vase from above

I love being able to pluck or purchase a single stem and have a way to show it off, especially in this time of relative scarcity in the garden. The snowdrops benefit from a closer look than they normally get in situ, and I don’t think I have ever fully appreciated them before bringing this one in to occupy my new vase.

Euphorbia ‘Sticks of Fire’

I have been wanting a Euphorbia ‘Sticks of Fire’ for ever so long.

Euphorbia ‘Sticks of Fire’ up close

This one inflames my passion. I love the way the green at the base morphs into bright orange, with the new growth coming on in a bright shade of chartreuse.

Whenever I drive into town I have a list of errands to work into one trip, so off I went to Garden Fever in search of Castor Bean seeds. They always have charming sidewalk displays to greet shoppers and passers-by (who most likely turn into shoppers when they see what’s on offer).

tabletop pot of succulents

This time I was taken with the tabletop gardens. Notice, in this on, how the little bit of earth not covered by plants is mulched with purple glass. Inside the store, there are many choices of stones, gravel and other things you could use for topdressing to similarly dramatic effect.

pot with Corokia Cotoneaster

The tall ingredient here is Corokia cotoneaster, reminding me that I must give this plant another go…and maybe using it in a pot is the road to success (I’ve killed two of them already).

sweet little pot

Last I’ll show you a sweet little pot crammed with blooming heather, cascading sedum ‘Angelina’ and a tuft of a grass I failed to identify.

my purchases

No castor beans (uhoh, guess I will have to put my pocketbook in jeapordy with a return trip soon) but the unusual penstemon ‘Chocolate Drop’ and a new (to me, at least) zinnia ‘Red Spider’ from a source I haven’t seen before: Plants of Distinction, UK, with no website, came home with me, as did sweet pea ‘Singing the Blues from Botanical Interests. My assignment to myself is to get some seeds started this weekend. I usually put it off longer than I should. The tubular ceramic pieces in the upper right of the photo are destined to become segments in a totem I have in mind. With any success, you will see it here.

inspired by spires

Italian cypresses

We have about 10 Italian cypresses scattered along the drive leading to our house. They act like a series of exclamation points. Some shoot up from bare ground, while others provide vertical elements amid lower growing plants.

stachys ‘Helen Von Styne’

With Stachys ‘Helen Von Styne’ sending up flowering stalks from her mounds of silvery foliage, it amounts to the best of both worlds. Beloved by bees, these stems also exude a subtle fragrance and avoid flopping.

Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’

In late spring, Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ towers over this same berm, anchored by an Italian cypress at the far end. I might be accused of overdoing the spires, but there are billowy Euphorbias, rounded Rhododendrons and a few groundcovers to soften the effect.

kniphofia ‘Percy’s Pride’

After Cleo has faded, Kniphofia ‘Percy’s Pride’ steps in. I always knew kniphs as red hot pokers, but Percy is more of a white hot poker, pale yellow shaded to light green. K. ‘Primrose Beauty’ is less vigorous, but it may just need a little more sun than it gets on the other side of that Berberis jamesiana.

Acanthus spinosa

About mid-summer, Acanthus spinosa produces tall columns of exotic looking blooms that dry in place and are dressing up their berm even now. When happy, they can be thuggish, but I love them too much to complain.

digitalis purpurea

I never know where the foxgloves will show up, but they seem to have a knack for placement. You may recall my puzzlement over the cupped flower at the top of the wand of more expected gloves. I was just reading up and found that it is typical of Digitalis purpurea ‘Monstrosa’.


This Verbascum is another volunteer, so I can’t tie down its identity any further.

Eupatorium maculatum ‘Atropurpureum’

I’m not sure these could even be called spires (they are pretty fluffy), but they do reach for the sky, and they sure do inspire me. So what about you? Are there spires in your garden? What are they, and how do you use them?

my book, BeBop Garden, is here!

BeBop Garden cover

In case you didn’t know, I wrote a book about getting bitten by the gardening bug and the revelations and little observations that came with that new pastime (some might call it an obsession).

You can order one at the sneak preview price by clicking here. Or, if you just want to know “Why the goofy title?”, the first few paragraphs tell that story, and are included on the order page.

A couple of blogging buddies have written reviews. To read what they have to say, go to Danger Garden and Gardening With Grace. If you haven’t already discovered these two excellent gardener/writers, you are in for a treat when you browse through their blogs.

Please let me know if you would like to be in the loop for notifications of related events like readings, signings, etc. Just leave a comment here, including your email address. I promise not to bombard you with missives…just the occasional update when something new happens.

HPSO fall sale

hpso sale checkout

The fall sale is always calmer than the one in the spring, but this scene at the check-out tables at around 11:30 in the morning was shocking. I have been hearing from friends in the biz that they are just hanging on. The last couple of harsh winters could be discouraging late season splurges as well.

checkout looking the other way

There were quite a few plants in the holding area, but normally there would be people three deep waiting to claim their plants. When I worked in holding, we quickly ran out of designated spaces and had to improvise. I had arrived with firm resolve to resist coming home with a bunch of stuff that would need babying through the winter. I’m going to mark my weakness up to a spirit of largesse in helping to keep these growers growing. On the bright side, there were parking spaces close by (in the shade, no less) and it was easy to chat up the vendors about plants of interest.

Stapelia (lepida?) (planiflora?)

Case in point: this fascinating flower was in a booth selling “succulents”, a frustrating generality to those of us who are drawn to this large and varied category. Let’s back up and take a look at the whole plant.

Stapelia plant

Talking to the woman who was overseeing the booth, I learned that it is a Stepelia, and that this large, blooming specimen with the $25 price tag started a year ago as a plant this size:

my 4? Stapelia

for a mere $4.

my Stapelia pot

So on my way home I stopped by Garden Fever to pick up a pot for it. It will be overpotted, as directed, so I am expecting some of those op art flowers to show up next year. I was sure there was more to the name, so I Googled it and found several photos that looked like the very flower, but with different names: Stapelia planiflora? Stapelia lepida?. I also learned that the common name is carrion flower or starfish flower. Then I made the connection: James, over at Lost in the Landscape had written about the stench emanating from carrion flowers…oops. I didn’t notice an odor around the booth, so maybe this is a less offensive variety. Loree has a much better picture on her blog about the sale. I promise I won’t be as long-winded about the rest of my swag.

Acca sellowiana

Acca sellowiana, or Pineapple Guava is Zone 6-9, but it will live in a bigger pot on the front deck until early spring.

Drimys lanceolata

As will Drimys lanceolata or Mountain Pepper, a Zone 7 evergreen shrub from Dancing Oaks Nursery.


The coloring on Drimys is a lot like the Madrones, with the deep red stems.

Luzula sylvatica ‘Aurea’

Luzula sylvatica ‘Aurea’ is billed as Zone 5, so it is going into the ground.

Saxifraga ‘Whitehill’

Saxifraga ‘Whitehill’

Verbascum ariaphaenum, Selaginella krausseana ‘Aurea’, Cornus canadensis

And finally, a little trio of proven winners, Verbascum ariaphaenum, Selaginella krausseana ‘Aurea’ and Cornus canadensis, back there in the dark.

pickles & new plants

white cucumbers

When the plants labeled lemon cucumbers instead began shucking out these, I decided it was time for a new experiment.

homemade pickles

I had never made pickles before. It was incredibly easy. With this much raw material at hand, I will be trying out several variations and will let you know if there is a clear standout.

Uva sin semillas ‘Concord’

One tip was to put a grape leaf in the jar with the pickles to assure crispness. When I stopped by to see Michelle of Jockey Hill Nursery at the Scappoose Farmers’ Market, sure enough, she had grape vines. This one is a seedless Concord, good for jellies and pies, but it was the leaves I was after.

Panicum ‘Shenandoah’

If you find yourself headed for the coast on Hwy 30 on a Saturday morning, you would be well advised to stop by this market. Michelle has healthy, well-groomed plants and there are always at least 5 that I can hardly resist. This Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ had to come home with me. Cooking and planting: what a way to spend a beautiful weekend.

Want to see what others are cooking up from their gardens’ bounty? Visit Wendy and she will put you on the right path.

danger garden: saturday morning

The folks at HPSO talked Loree into opening her garden to a small group and sharing her tips and tricks for growing succulents. I have long admired this garden and gardener online, so I jumped at the chance to meet them both in 3D. I kicked myself for failing to bring my camera (it was hiding out, having learned something from those devious car keys), but I needn’t have worried. Loree does a much better job of chronicling than I ever could here. She almost apologetically admitted that all of her expertise comes from personal experience rather than study. As far as I am concerned, that is the very best kind of knowledge. Plus, I happen to know that she gobbles up every book on the subject before experimenting freely on the hundreds of plants in her collection.

Euphorbia mamilaris ‘varigata’

As if soaking up this fabulous garden and pelting Loree with questions were not enough, she used her considerable pull in the local plant community to procure donated plants. There were just enough to go around. I fell somewhere in the middle of the ingenious drawing system for choosing. The big, showy numbers had already been snapped up, but I had had my eye on this little guy right from the start. I never met a Euphorbia I didn’t like. E. mamilaris ‘varigata’ stands 4.5″ tall and is a perfect fit for one of three little metal containers I found in a thrift shop. Doesn’t he look like he is holding up his paws and shouting “Pick me! Pick me!”?

gravel top dressing on E mamilaris ‘varigata’

Planting him up gave me a chance to put new information into practice. We had been warned that most succulents will be planted too deeply. Sure enough, you can see the dark line where the soil level reached in the nursery pot. I can see why they do it that way, because he wanted to flop over when the soil covered only his shallow root system. Aha! Here is where the recommended layer of gravel top-dressing came in. Not only is it attractive, but it holds the plant upright without retaining moisture. I applied this same technique to an Agave pup that had been struggling.


Since she knew of the death, last year, of my prickly pear, Loree had saved a paddle from one of hers for me. I am taking no chances with this one, so more potting practice, using 70% potting soil to 30% chicken grit and once again topping off with gravel. I noticed that the Danger Garden employs many cachepots with no drainage holes, so the watering of this plant, similarly housed, will need to be even sparser than usual (I am sure that Loree will correct me in the comments if I am wrong about that). Update: I was right: see comments for the straight scoop.

All in all, this was a perfect way to spend a beautiful, sunny morning. Thanks, HPSO, for convincing Loree to step outside of her comfort zone and try something she wasn’t sure she would be good at. Hah! Loree…I think you might just be finding yourself in demand. You were great!

Gossler Farms comes to Joy Creek

Almost every Sunday at 1pm there is a seminar of some sort at Joy Creek Nursery. Last Sunday Roger Gossler of Gossler Farms in Eugene, Oregon was the featured speaker.

Roger Gossler

He was talking about late-season plants, especially shrubs and small trees, to bring interest to a time when many gardens seem to be exhausted by their spring efforts and taking a breather before their fall show. He brought a load of plants to illustrate his points.

audience for Roger’s talk

He is much in demand as a speaker, so he is comfortable in front of an audience and knows how to keep us engaged and interested. If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Springfield, Oregon, just outside of Eugene, a fine experience awaits you wandering through the magnificent display gardens. Barring that, a mail-order business puts the plants within your reach. A nice tour of the gardens can be found at nest maker. Do not fail to follow the links to part two.

Rhododendron ‘Ebony Pearl’

After soaking up all of the stories and background information we were ready to shop. I came away with Rhododendron ‘Ebony Pearl’. Now I am trying to drum up interest in a trip south.